Your child's safety at school was the center of discussion and debate at Alabama's state capitol Wednesday. Lawmakers, law enforcement and educators came together to discuss possible ways to stop a school shooting before it happens.
The summit comes in the wake of the Newtown, Ct. massacre that left 26 dead, including 20 children, at a local elementary school.
There was no discussion of any new specific gun restrictions in Alabama, like outlawing high capacity magazines or assault weapons, but topics discussed included everything from armed school employees to the roles of law enforcement and the state's new active shooter scenarios. The different groups met to voice all the different ideas on how best to keep Alabama schools safe.
Some speakers made it clear that focusing any policies on just weapons or security measures would be a short-sighted approach.
"I can tell you right now, a trained resource officer is a very good start, but unless you have a trained mental health professional that's in that school to help them out, you're wasting your money," said Jimmie Hart, President of the Alabama District Attorneys Association.
Presenters dedicated most of the hearing to the role of teachers and guns in public schools. Valley Elementary School teacher Marla Vaugh said issuing guns to trained staff members is not the answer.
"In my opinion, one of the best options is that each and every school have an armed, uniformed officer, or a plain clothed officer, moving through inside the campus before school, during school and after school," Vaugh suggested.
Vaugh's position was echoed by several law enforcement associations that say guns have no place in teachers' or even school administrators' hands.
"Police officers are empowered by the law and by the courts to take a person's life lawfully," said Grover Smith of the Alabama Sheriff's Association. "That's not something that needs to be handed to someone that's doing it on a part time basis."
One state lawmaker wants to arm at least some school personnel saying he would feel better about his granddaughter's school if there was someone with proper training to protect students in a situation like the one that unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"Probably you would need two people designated in some of these schools that could handle a weapon," said Rep. Kerry Rich (R-Albertville). "And I also think that you would have to set up proper procedures as to where you would store the guns and handle the guns. There's a way you could do this," he stated.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said his administration is working to protect schools and public buildings. Bentley has tasked his Homeland Security Director, Spencer Collier, to lay out a strategic plan for preventing and responding to active shooter situations.
The governor's office says there is a vital role played by the public and encouraged anyone witnessing suspicious people or activities to contact the state's anonymous hotline. The number is 1-866-229-6220. An online form is also available here: http://fusion.alabama.gov/Report-Suspicious-Activity.aspx.
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